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12/29/93 JAMES G. KEETER v. UNITED STATES

December 29, 1993

JAMES G. KEETER, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. John H. Suda, Trial Judge)

Before Farrell, Wagner, and King, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell

FARRELL, Associate Judge: This is an appeal from appellant's conviction for voluntary manslaughter while armed. The question we must decide is whether, when the police awakened appellant in his bedroom with guns drawn, ordered him to raise his hands and frisked him, told him they needed to talk to him at the police station, then transported him to the homicide office for questioning, all without probable cause, he was detained in a manner that was the functional equivalent of a formal arrest. The government in effect concedes that if appellant was under detention when he accompanied the detectives to the homicide office for interrogation, then he was arrested without probable cause and his statements to the police must be excluded as the fruit of the unlawful arrest. *fn1 The government contends, however, that appellant voluntarily chose to go with the police to the station despite the admitted seizure in the bedroom moments before. The trial court agreed, although with considerable reservation. As "this is a question of law which we must answer based on our assessment of the evidence," United States v. Gayden, 492 A.2d 868, 872 (D.C. 1985), we have examined the evidence carefully. We conclude that, notwithstanding the fact mainly relied on by the government -- i.e., the detectives' repeated "insistence" to appellant that he was not under arrest -- the totality of facts demonstrates that appellant would not reasonably have believed that he could spurn the detectives' implied command to accompany them to the police station. Since the resultant seizure amounted to an arrest under governing Supreme Court law, appellant's statements at the station must be suppressed. *fn2

I.

Late in the evening of January 12, 1990, Chet Harrison received multiple stab wounds from which he died. Homicide detectives responded to the scene and learned from eyewitnesses that Harrison, at the time of the stabbing, had addressed his assailant as "Jay" or "Jake" in pleading, "Why you doing this to me?" Though the witnesses did not know the assailant, one described him in some detail and another generally, and a police officer familiar with the neighborhood informed the detectives that a man he knew as "Jay" sometimes stayed with a relative at a house in the same block. Between 7:30 and 8:30 the next morning, three detectives went to the house and spoke with appellant's sister. When they asked her if she knew a "Jay" and described the suspect, she directed them to her sister's house across the street. The detectives went to that house, knocked, and were admitted by another sister of appellant. When they told her they were looking for "Jay" in connection with a murder, she replied that Jay was upstairs in the bedroom. Two detectives drew their guns and went upstairs, where they found appellant lying across a bed asleep but clothed. Detective Wade hollered "Jay" and woke appellant up, then told him to raise his hands and patted him down, finding no weapon. The detectives reholstered their guns and brought appellant downstairs to the living room.

As appellant sat in the living room putting on his shoes, Wade told him he was not under arrest but that the detectives "were investigating a murder that occurred three doors up from the house where . . located him and [that they] needed to talk to him." Either at this point or a short time later, appellant was told he was a suspect in the murder. On direct examination Wade explained:

I advised him while [sic; why] we were there and I told him that he wasn't under arrest. I told him I needed to talk to him for questioning downtown. I insisted that he wasn't under arrest.

On cross-examination Wade was pressed about the exact words he had used:

Q. Okay. Now, you told him that you needed to take him down for questioning; right?

A. Yes, ma'am.

Q. And to the best of your recollection those were your exact words; right?

A. Yes. Well, that he wasn't under arrest.

Q. He wasn't under arrest but you needed to take him down ...


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